Montreal Dickens Fellowship
for the best of times

Figgy Pudding
Ellie Clavier M.I.L.R. Dec.2007

There can be little doubt that of all the 28 children in Mrs. Glickman’s grade three class, not one of us knew what figgy pudding was. Indeed we weren’t quite sure if Mrs. Glickman knew herself. Yet every Christmas, there we were, eager disciples of Van Horne School, gem of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, joyously proclaiming our love for this mysterious yuletide treat. We would raise our innocent voices in joyful chorus, belting out, as only primary school children can, a hearty rendition of the Victorian Christmas carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. Party goers, mentioned in the lyrics, won’t go until they get some, so we knew that figgy pudding was something very special.

Then again, our whole holiday repertoire was filled with special mysteries. What did wassail taste like? What exactly were you supposed to do with the holly and the ivy? Who on earth was good king Wenslas and when did he last look out? These were questions never asked and so never answered because we all had a sense that we were being treated to something that wasn’t exactly for us. To be sure we were given hymnbooks and taught the Lord’s Prayer, which we were required to recite fervently each and every morning, with hands clasped behind our backs and heads bowed. We all knew our father who art in heaven Harold be thy name, just as surely as we knew that God must shave our gracious queen and that we must pledge allegiance to this flag and to the commonwealth for which it stands. We gloria’d this and dominum’d that, praised the Christ child and sang about three kings of orient are that tried to smoke a rubber cigar. We marched onward with Christian soldiers and even climbed Jacob’s bladder, but somewhere in the back of our eight year old minds was the ever present knowledge that almost all of the 28 children in Mrs. Glickman’s grade three class were Jewish. As were 90% of the rest of the school and most of the teachers. To our minds, the decorating of the shiny tree in the back of the classroom with colorful crystal ornaments, the paper angels we so lovingly designed, the exchange of velvet and sparkly Christmas stickers, and yes, the singing of those cryptic Christmas carols, were all gifts that were shared with us and as such they were treasured. Just as we treasured our own holidays at home replete with colorful candles on sparkling hanukiot, crispy potato latkes, spinning draidles and Hanukkah gelt.

We didn’t worry that we were English speaking in a French province or that we were Jewish in a Protestant school. We didn’t worry about language police or reasonable accommodation. We were learning to speak French. We were learning what it meant to have a different religion and different holidays. We were basking (if we’d only known it at the time) in our country’s great diversity and freedom. We raised our voices in song, celebrating our great luck to have the best of all worlds. And yes, we gleefully sang the praises of figgy pudding. Yet to learn that figgy pudding is a rare treat made up of a large number of exotic, foreign ingredients, carefully mixed with rich local ingredients, which takes an unusually long time to bake, steamed in a gentle bath over a bright flame. Yet to discover that figgy pudding is known and loved for its retaining the taste of all its individual components. Yet to know that in Charles Dickens’ story of Scrooge, figgy pudding is the star of the yuletide table over which Tiny Tim proclaims: “And God bless us everyone!”